Starting a Flea Market Business

Start a Flea Market Business of Your Own

Booth at the Alameda Flea Market
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Turn your passion for crafting, cooking, or secondhand shopping for profit by starting a flea market business. There's very little risk when you open a flea market booth, but the rewards can be huge:

  • Low startup cost
  • Low overhead
  • Don't have to quit your day job
  • Flexible schedule

Visit Flea Markets Where You Might Want to Sell

Young women checking out flea market booths
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Every flea market has its own vibe. Some attract professional and DIY decorators—and some are full of discount toiletries and tube socks. Many are blends of both.

Visit all the flea markets within the distance you’re willing to travel to find the best fit for your new business. While you’re deciding:

  • Make sure the merchandise you want to sell is permitted. Some flea markets only allow antique and vintage goods. Some prohibit food. Some limit the number of vendors who can sell various types of merchandise.
  • Make sure the flea market isn’t already saturated with the type of merchandise you want to sell. The exceptions are antique and vintage goods. There can never be too much. Buyers flock to the flea markets with the most available.
  • Make note of pricing on items similar to yours.
  • Find out when each flea market is open. Some open every weekend, and some only one weekend a month. Permanent indoor flea markets may even be open every day. You may decide to rent a regular booth—or you might want to make the rounds each month.
  • How is booth space reserved, and how much does it cost?
  • Does the flea market have both outdoor booths and indoor spaces?
  • Talk to other vendors. Find out if they’re happy with traffic and sales.
  • Are tables, tents, and chairs available for rent?

Take Care of the Legal Stuff

Couple filling out paperwork for resale certificate
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  • Depending on your city, county, and state requirements, you may need a tax number or business license. The flea market office can usually tell you what you’ll need, and many have the paperwork available onsite. If not, visit your county clerk.
  • You may be required to collect sales tax from your customers. Find out, and then find out if you're supposed to send it in or if the flea market handles that for you.
  • There may be different tax and licensing requirements for vendors selling new versus used merchandise. Ask at the flea market office, and then verify what they advise with the appropriate government office.

Source Your Merchandise

Flea market merchandise and antiques
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  • If you plan to sell your own artwork, crafts, or cooking, you know what to do.
  • If you plan to sell your overflow of vintage home furnishings from years of yard sale shopping, you’ll soon need to replenish the merchandise. You might schedule some weekends for selling and others for shopping. Or, search for merchandise at thrift stores, estate sales, auctions, Craigslist, and yard sales that start on Thursdays and Fridays. You can also place your own classified, Craigslist, and Facebook yard sale ads, offering to buy used furnishings from folks who don’t want the hassle of holding a yard sale.
  • If you plan to sell new or liquidated merchandise, check online for wholesalers and liquidators. You may also find merchandise lots available at auctions and by the pallet loads from retailers. Be sure to factor any shipping costs into your pricing and profit calculations.

Gather Your Equipment

Tent at the Alameda Flea Market
Alameda Flea Market by craigemorsels/ CC BY-ND 2.0/Flickr
  • Decide what equipment you’ll need for your booth. Tables and a tent are the basics, and the flea market may even have them for rent. 
  • Depending on what you sell, you may need more for display than just tables. If you sell vintage clothing and accessories, for example, you'll probably need clothing racks, hat and jewelry stands, a mannequin, and a full-length mirror. If you plan to sell small, pricey items, invest in some cases that lock.
  • Don't forget about the equipment you'll need to load and haul your merchandise, perhaps a furniture dolly, stackable plastic tubs, and padding for breakables.

Set up Your Booth and Sell

Woman shopping for vintage clothing at flea market
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  • The flea market may have required times for setting up booths. Find out and follow the rules.
  • If the flea market doesn’t specify the time, get there early. You want to have everything ready to sell when the customers arrive—and they will arrive at the moment the flea market opens.
  • Take the time to make your booth look nice, and place the finest and showiest items at the front. Give shoppers a good reason to stop at your space.
  • Be prepared to negotiate the price. Customers love to haggle. Decide in advance how low you’ll be willing to go on your goods, and be friendly during the negotiation. It’s a sport, not conflict.
  • Take plenty of cash, especially small bills. If you'd like to accept credit cards, consider signing up for Square, which you can use with your smartphone.
  • Don't use a money box unless you have a designated cashier who stays put. If you don't, keep your cash in a fanny pack or an apron with large pockets. An apron is best. The cash is easier to access—and it helps shoppers identify you as the seller.
  • Smile and say hello when people come to your booth, but don't immediately start trying to sell. Mirror the customer. If the customer is chatty, then chat. If he wants to look on his own, let him. Be available when shoppers need you, but don’t push.